MEPs vote to end monthly travel to Strasbourg

MEPs are urging EU ministers to prepare a roadmap for ending the European Parliament's costly shuttle between its seats in Brussels and Strasbourg, in a resolution on the 2013 budget adopted Tuesday (23 October).

“We need to be able to decide ourselves," said Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek (Greens), who stressed the financial and environmental costs of the parliamentary shuttle. "We already work in our constituencies and in Brussels, Strasbourg is a third seat.” 

MEPs demanded that a report with detailed figures on the cost of each place and working conditions for staff, as well as economic, societal and environmental factors, be presented by 30 June 2013.

The current twin-seat system is called into question, mostly due to costs. To move 736 MEPs and their staff to Strasbourg costs €180 million per year, nearly 20% of the assembly’s annual budget.

In terms of environmental costs, MEPs said that 19,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide are released every year by the so-called travelling circus, which is equivalent to 13,000 flights from London to New York and back.

"The Parliament is telling national governments that we will use our new powers to turn the corner on the anachronistic arrangement which keeps us away from the political capital of Europe – Brussels – for one week a month,” said MEP Edward McMillan-Scott.

The British Liberal Democrat stressed that ahead of the 2014 European elections it is important that MEPs show their readiness to back greater efficiency by supporting consolidation of Parliament's own activities into a single seat.

The seat of the Parliament can currently be changed via an agreement by unanimity in the Council, but under Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament can initiate a change in Treaty.

Vote denied

This has not happened so far because the conference of presidents – comprising the political group leaders and Parliament President Martin Schulz – has refused to hold any debate on the single seat, said British MEP Ashley Fox from the European Conservatives and Reformists group.

Last year, Ashley added his name to the Fox amendment which he successfully steered through the Parliament. It reduced the number of trips to Strasbourg this year from 12 to 11 by amending the legislative schedule to put two separate plenary sessions into one week in October – this week.

According to Votewatch, most of the MEPs who voted against the call to end travel to Strasbourg were French. Speaking in Strasbourg, Fox criticised France for using "every trick in the book" to silence any debate on withdrawing from the Alsacian city.

The argument most used by French politicians is that Strasbourg is the European symbol of peace, but most MEPs say now that has become a negative symbol for cost and inefficiency.

MEPs floated several ideas to reconvert the French seat either into a research institution or move the consultative bodies, Committee of the Regions and Economic and Social Committee, to Strasbourg.

ALDE British MEP Sarah Ludford offered the idea to relocate the European Court of Justice from Luxembourg, as Strasbourg already hosts the non-EU Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. 

Background

Under a decision taken in 1992 at an Edinburgh EU summit, Strasbourg is an official seat of the European Parliament: 12 four-day plenary sessions per year must take place there.

Any decision to change this would require an amendment to the EU Treaties, a process which requires unanimity among all EU member states. The European Parliament also has a third seat in Luxembourg, where its administrative offices (General Secretariat) are located. The EU assembly held a few plenary sessions in Luxembourg between 1967 and 1981.

The current twin-seat system is often called into question, mostly due to cost. According to its opponents, the EU's 'travelling circus' costs taxpayers an estimated 180 million per year.

A petition, launched in May 2006, was handed to the European Commission on 21 September that year by a group of parliamentarians led by Cecilia Malmström, at the time Swedish EU Affairs Minister,  in her former capacity as an MEP.

It reached the symbolic one-million signature mark in November 2006, while the website of the 'One Seat' campaign has recorded over 1.2 million signatures.

Further Reading